When a reader picks up a book about World War II, you pretty much know that it’s going to be difficult reading. Sometimes I wonder why we read such stories when they are so hard to comprehend and so utterly impossible to imagine. I guess the answer is that we read them so that we never forget what must be considered one of the most horrific periods in history.
So I knew when I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah that it wouldn’t be a light and breezy read. But it offered (and delivered) a look at the war from a new perspective – not the Jews who were persecuted and killed in or barely survived concentration camps but the rest of the European population who suffered immensely as a result of the Nazi regime.
What’s more, The Nightingale also offered a look at the war from the women’s perspective. Not nurses or others who participated directly in the war effort but those who were left behind to try and keep the world turning and their families safe.
Vianne and Isabelle are sisters who live in the Loire region of France. They haven’t had an easy time of it because their mother died shortly after their father returned from serving in WWI. The war changed him forever and he turned his back on his daughters.
The two took different paths in life – Vianne falling in love, marrying and having a daughter; Isabelle not able to find peace at one boarding school after another. When the Nazis invade France, both women experience the war in very different – but equally important – ways.
Hannah’s descriptions of the lives of the two women is vivid and graphic – and horrifying. The book took me by storm. I couldn’t put it down, but I found it hard to bear as I read.
The book is told from three perspectives – Isabelle’s (who becomes a resistance fighter), and Vivianne (who nearly loses everything trying to keep her family (and others) alive. The third perspective is contemporary and the reader isn’t sure whether it’s Vianne or Isabelle who is narrating that perspective.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It is a story I will long remember.